Prop. 19 speakers at Oakland City Hall

The Proposition 19 campaign switches into high gear

on September 13, 2010

Oakland City Attorney John Russo joined other law enforcement officials in front of Oakland City Hall Monday to declare support for the marijuana legalization initiative Proposition 19, which Russo argued would give Californians “a chance to take drugs off the street corners and out of the hands of children.”

Joined by people working on the Proposition 19 campaign, a former community prosecutor, and a former deputy sheriff who is now a medical marijuana user himself, Russo said that Proposition 19 — which would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana — would improve public safety, ease the budget deficit and make it harder for kids to obtain marijuana.

“Here in California we finally have a chance to recognize prohibition for what it is, an outdated and costly approach that has failed to benefit and protect our society or to provide law and order,” Russo said during the morning press conference,  “This is a smart initiative, it will give law enforcement officials more capacity to focus on what really matters… making our communities safer.”

Proposition 19 will be on the statewide November ballot. If voters approve it, Californians over the age of 21 will be able to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, grow up to 25 square feet of it in their homes and consume it privately. Additionally, local governments would be able to authorize the retail sale of marijuana and tax those sales to raise revenue for their cities. According to Russo, the estimated tax revenue from sales alone would be $1.4 billion for the state of California.

No matter what California voters decide, though, the sale of marijuana will still be illegal under federal law. This is one of the central arguments that opponents of Proposition 19 have raised in objecting to the proposed law. Among these opponents are Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Barbara Boxer, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, and others from all sides of the political spectrum.

Besides creating a state law that directly conflicts with federal law, these opponents argue, Proposition 19 fails to address how implementation and enforcement of the law would work. Additionally, they say the law sets no standards for driver impairment, such as the 0.08 blood-alcohol level for driving drunk.

The speakers gathered at Oakland City Hall on Monday addressed all of these issues. Russo said that although there is no breathalyzer test yet for marijuana use, there are tests for “drugged drivers,” which include blood tests, field sobriety tests and police cars that can record videos of drugged drivers. Responding to the potential conflict between state and federal law, Russo said federal authorities have prosecutorial discretion to decide whether to spend their time on marijuana prosecutions, as opposed to other crimes or issues.

Former Sutter County Deputy Sheriff Nate Bradley, joining Russo at the press conference, identified himself as a medical marijuana user for what Bradley said was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) stemming from his work as a police officer. After his PTSD diagnosis, Bradley said, his doctors put him on every prescription pill available, but nothing seemed to work. He said he still had nightmares and couldn’t sleep. “I was like a zombie walking around,” he said.

Finally, Bradley said, he tried medical marijuana. “It cleaned up my thoughts and my anxiety disappeared,” Bradley said. Before trying cannabis, “I thought medical marijuana was the biggest fraud,” he said. “I thought it was for hippies with a hangnail.” But once he saw how it could help people, Bradley said, he became an advocate and joined the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, whose members include current and former law enforcement and criminal justice officials from all over the U.S. who are concerned about the country’s existing drug policies.

Bradley said he had become convinced that criminalizing marijuana neither improves public safety nor protects children drug use. “I’ve seen it first hand, ” he said, meaning prohibition, “and I’ve seen that it’s failed. In our schools, kids can get marijuana easier than pizza.” Because the sale of marijuana is controlled by the black market, he said, it’s difficult for law enforcement to regulate or control it and keep it out of the hands of children.  “They [the dealers] don’t check IDs, they don’t care if they’re selling to a 12-year-old or if they’re selling to a 30-year-old,” he said. “They don’t care who it is.  It’s all about the money.”

Russo echoed Bradley’s comments and said the main people profiting from marijuana sales right now are members of drug cartels, which receive 60 percent of their revenue from marijuana sales in the U.S, according to estimates by the White House Office of Drug Control Policy.  “Money is the oxygen of these organizations,” said Russo. “Our approach, foolishly, has been like trying to put out a house fire with a watering can, when what we ought to do is shut off the main oxygen supply.”

Russo and the other proponents at the press conference said they believe Proposition 19 is one way to accomplish that. “It’s time to acknowledge the truth about the war on marijuana, that it’s a failure and a fantasy,” Russo said. “Regulate it, control it, take it away from the criminals who control the market and then hold adults accountable for their actions the same way we do with alcohol.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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